Thilde Kold Holdt: The legendary inspiration behind the women of The Hanged God Trilogy

March is Women’s History Month! To celebrate Thilde Kold Holdt, author of the Hanged God Trilogy, will be sharing the legendary, archaeological and historical inspiration behind some of the women in her brilliant Viking Age fantasy series throughout the month.

When we think of the Vikings, we undoubtedly think of Norse mythology and the Prose Edda. It’s almost impossible to separate the Vikings from their legends…

Take it away, Thilde!

The story of Alvilde is going to sound familiar, but likely you haven’t heard it told quite this way.

There was once a Norse woman locked up in her room, guarded by a big snake-like dragon. Whoever could slay the beast would win her hand in marriage, but any who tried and failed would be beheaded and their heads would be displayed on poles at the entrance.

Alf, son of King Sigar, was always on the search for an adventure, so he took up the challenge. He drenched his clothes in blood to make the beast wild. Barely had he approached before the beast smelled him and attacked, but Alf drove a burning hot metal rod into its mouth, and followed up with a spear. The beast fell.

This is where the story truly diverges from the one you may be recalling from your childhood. For when Alf asked to marry the girl, as had been promised, Alvilde’s father, the King of Gotland, said that a marriage proposal would be for the girl to decide.

12th century historian Saxo Gramaticus tells us that Alvilde’s mother was against the marriage and although Alvilde was interested in Alf, her mother convinced her that Alf wasn’t the right choice. So, Alvilde refused the proposal. Alf left alone, and soon after, Alvilde too left Gotland.

For this is the tale of a true shieldmaiden, a female warrior of her time. Her name is Alvilde (literally: all wild) and she exchanged her womanly dress with the garments of a man, transforming from timid girl to harsh Viking. Off she went to raids with like-minded girls.

When Alvilde and her fighting girls came across a group of men mourning the recent death of their Chieftain, the men promptly selected Alvilde to be their new Chief and joined her ranks. Alvilde continued to gain renown. She gathered a small fleet of followers and then came a decisive battle which would ultimately change Alvilde’s entire life.

For after slaying the beast and being refused marriage, Alf, son of the king, journeyed on. Eventually he came upon a fleet of warriors with slim figures. They fought fiercely and eventually Alf successfully removed the helmet of the other fleet’s leader. That is when Alf discovered that their leader was a woman, and besides, the very woman he had hoped to marry all of that time ago. Alvilde was the one who had conjured such a bloody battle.

This time, Alvilde and Alf did get married.

And for me, that is what makes Alvilde my top pick among the many stories of shieldmaidens. When she was free from the shackles which held her back, she chose her own destiny. She went off to fight, gained great reputation and respect, gathered other women who wanted to raid like her, fought alongside with, and against, men on equal footing, and yet… After all of that warrior success, she is not any less attractive to the son of the King than she was before, when she was merely a mysterious girl hidden away in her room guarded by a dragon. A mere conquest. Now, Alvilde has conquered on her own and gained a true warrior’s reputation and yet, this does not hinder her femininity. Instead her independence and warrior capabilities make her more attractive. Now, that’s the true Viking way.

Hilda from the Hanged God Trilogy follows a somewhat similar path to that of Alvilde. Hilda feels locked up by her father who has tried to keep her away from raids, and decides on her own that time has come to raid and become a warrior. A choice which does not readily offer itself to her. It’s a dream she has to go out and fight to attain, and just like with Alvilde and Alf, Hilda’s independence and strength does not in the least make Einer lose interest in her, or make her any less attractive. Quite the opposite.

Slaughtered Gods, the third and final book in The Hanged God Trilogy, is out this October.